THE SAME SAD SHOW
Anyone who sees shame in Mike Tyson's employment as a so-called
enforcer for Wrestlemania XIV (which came first, kids:
Wrestlemania or the Super Bowl? Know your Roman numerals!)
hasn't been paying attention. Now he's a joke? What was he the
last three years, when his comeback was more comically
choreographed than an all-comers cage match? Mike Tyson vs.
Bruce Seldon may not have had the costuming of Hulk Hogan vs.
Rowdy Roddy Piper, but it was no less hilarious.
What we're trying to say is, this isn't suddenly beneath Tyson's
dignity. To go from biting Evander Holyfield's ear off to
slap-fighting Stone Cold Steve Austin is, athletically speaking,
a lateral move. For that matter, to pass from Don King's
workforce into Vince McMahon's cartoon outfit implies no further
descent into infamy. It's a serious pay cut, all right--$30
million a night to $4 million a night--but you can't say that
someone whose fierceness was supposed to be demonstrated anew in
a tussle with Peter McNeely now compromises his credibility by
appearing alongside Cactus Jack.
Still, anyone who remembers Tyson as Kid Dynamite, the teenager
with "bad intentions" in his furious fists and dreams of a
boxing legacy in his squarish head, has to feel a pang as his
career continues its farcical degeneration. The youngest man to
win a heavyweight title is now, at 31, a novelty act, a hired
stooge, his future uncertain in any other arena.
February 16, 1998
But this may be what happens when a life is constructed out of
promotional imperatives. Tyson was never meant to have any use
beyond making money--for King or now for McMahon. After he'd
been spoon-fed too many Frank Brunos following his release from
prison in 1995, even Tyson understood he'd become a caricature
of his competitive self, betrayed by King's commerce. It had
been a caper was all, a $140 million flimflam that didn't have
all that much to do with sport, much less a boxing legacy. Poor
Kid Dynamite. If his complicity in King's con hadn't already
dawned on him, he knew for sure the lie of all that marketing
bluster the night Holyfield called his bluff. He wasn't, when
you got right down to it, even an effective bully.
So now it's off to pro wrestling, where it was announced last
week that Tyson will use his former "baddest man on the planet"
persona to police the ring apron where often--all too
often--wrestlers sneak behind the referee's back to administer
sleeper holds, man-claws, what have you. Perhaps, McMahon hinted
with Kingly bluster, Tyson might even enter the fray. Maybe this
is where Tyson belongs. He may have understood the sad fictions
of his career before any of us, and he now requires the safety
of make-believe, where the hulks are as harmless as you need
them to be, and if there did happen to be a Holyfield in the
arena, he'd do exactly as he was told. --Richard Hoffer
IN NAGANO, 2+4=2
It was a politically correct, TV-savvy International Olympic
Committee that rushed women's hockey into these Winter Games.
Putting women in the rink was a mistake--albeit a well-meaning
one--simply because there is no depth in their game. Go beyond
Canada and the U.S., and the rest of the six-team field in this
embryonic sport is still pretty much Yada versus the People's
Republic of Yada.
In Nagano last week Canada dismantled Japan, a rapidly
submerging hockey nation, 13-0. The U.S. beat up 5-0 on chippy
China, a country with fewer than 100 females playing organized
hockey, and then held Sweden to three shots in a 7-1 win. The
smallish Finns can play a little, but there are only two real
heavyweights, teams that play with speed, toughness and a clue.
Also without much lost love. "I think Canada's incredibly
dirty," says U.S. center A.J. Mleczko, who came away banged and
bruised after a pre-Olympic series between the two teams. "Of
course, when I'm slashing them, it's a different story."
The slashing will probably begin in earnest on Saturday, when
the two familiar rivals meet in the round-robin final, and will
no doubt continue in the gold medal game scheduled for Feb. 17.
Until then, you can leave women's hockey off your radar
screen...if it wasn't already.
Referee Turns Coach
A MAN FOR TWO SEASONS
During his 12-year career as a catcher with the Atlanta Braves,
Bruce Benedict was a two-time All-Star and a fine defensive
catcher. But he didn't hit a lick (.242 lifetime average),
wasn't fast (12 stolen bases), didn't get on base all that often
(27 walks per season) and wasn't even much of a bunter. What
kept Benedict around for so long--and what makes him manager
Bobby Valentine's catching instructor on the New York Mets these
days--is his mind. The guy called one helluva game, and, in
fact, that's exactly what he's doing now, at age 42, as one of
the top college basketball referees in the Southeastern
"In this business, you need people who can make a quick
decision, and make it well," says John Guthrie, one of the SEC's
associate commissioners, of Benedict, who is wrapping up his
sixth year of refereeing for that conference. "It's kind of like
throwing out runners in a first-and-third situation, and Bruce
was good at that, too."
Benedict, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Kathleen, and
their three children, began officiating junior high and high
school games in 1985, mostly as a way to keep active between
baseball seasons. After hearing of Benedict's work, Guthrie
invited him to an SEC officials training camp in '88. For two
more years he worked high school and small college games, with
hopes of a summons to the big time. That came in '90, when he
started working Division I games. In '92 he joined the SEC full
Guthrie says Benedict would be a shoo-in for tournament duty
save for one snag: This Friday, as he has for the past 20
Februarys, Benedict will bolt to Florida for spring training.
"It's bittersweet for me," says Benedict, who played high school
basketball. "I'd love to be a part of the excitement of college
basketball in March. But being a coach with the Mets is a real
As Benedict has learned, some calls are tougher than others.
BOOLA BOOLA, MOOLA MOOLA
Yale lost the first intercollegiate sporting event in U.S.
history, a rowing match against Harvard in 1852. Over the 145
years since, the Elis have gone on to compete--and win--in a
full range of sports. Yet, when it comes to sports marketing,
somewhere along the line Yale missed the boat. While other
schools were reaping big bucks from sales of T-shirts, stuffed
mascots and other licensed products, the Elis collected zip for
the use of their name and such hallowed icons as bulldog mascot
That policy has at last gone the way of the raccoon coat and the
single wing. Yale recently announced plans to end the exemption
on licensing fees and to more aggressively promote products
bearing its name and logo. "We recognize that our name means a
lot--even to people who didn't go here," says Helen Kauder,
Yale's director of licensing. "Plus, this way we can crack down
on the NAKED COED LACROSSE shirts out there with YALE on them."
Of course, the additional income is a significant attraction as
well, concedes Kauder, who says that Yale hopes to make $250,000
a year from its stepped-up licensing program. While that's a
handsome figure, it's a far cry from the bottom line of, say,
Notre Dame or Michigan--and, by the way, still a boat length or
two behind the $1 million Harvard pulls in.
ABL vs. WNBA
A PLUCKY PROPOSITION
The two-year-old ABL has clamored for attention in some creative
ways, particularly during its all-star weekend last month.
First, Sylvia Crawley pulled off a blindfolded jam during the
slam-dunk contest, and then CEO Gary Cavalli, in his state of
the league address, proposed an interleague all-star game
against the higher-profile WNBA. "It would be good for the fans
and good for professional women's basketball," says Cavalli.
He's right. The game would attract more publicity than either
league could hope to generate on its own.
Alas, it's not going to happen. WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman
responded by letter to Cavalli's challenge, writing that, with
its recent expansion to 10 teams, the addition of two
regular-season games per team and a lengthened playoff format,
the WNBA is "currently not in a position to devote the time or
resources that would be required for us to participate in a
WNBA/ABL all-star event in the near term." Cavalli countered
with an offer to handle all preparations and even foot the bill,
but Ackerman issued a two-sentence letter cutting off the
Nor was Ackerman diplomatic in discussing the ABL's proposal:
"It's a one-time publicity stunt that in the end isn't good for
women's basketball." Translation: The game wouldn't be good for
the losing team--which would likely be the WNBA. Sure, the WNBA
has marquee names, including 28 former Olympians, but many are
aging pioneers like Lynette Woodard, 38, and players from
mediocre national teams.
The offer may seem to be a gutsy one from a league that has hung
its reputation on being superior on the floor. But it was more a
cagey move, one that put the NBA-backed league on the defensive.
"We believe we have better players," says Cavalli. "I think this
game would support that."
Ackerman doesn't care. "I think that whole story line is
tiresome," she says. But there's one way to stop the debate. Let
THE DISABILITY ISSUE
The NCAA gained a victory in court recently when a federal
district court judge in Missouri ruled that the NCAA need not
accept the scores from a nonstandard--in this instance,
untimed--ACT exam taken by a St. Louis University basketball
recruit. But the case may also have exposed the NCAA to further
attacks in its legal battles over eligibility requirements for
student-athletes with learning disabilities.
Justin Tatum, a star 6'7" forward at St. Louis's Christian
Brothers College a year ago and now a freshman at St. Louis,
took an untimed version of the ACT during which the questions
were played on tape. He was granted that accommodation after a
psychological condition known as generalized anxiety disorder
was diagnosed. The condition, he says, makes him nervous and
distracted when taking tests. After the NCAA refused to
recognize his scores (which were barely over the NCAA-mandated
minimums) and declared him ineligible, Tatum, arguing that the
NCAA had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),
went to court seeking an injunction that would have allowed him
to accept a scholarship from the Billikens.
In denying the injunction Judge Donald Stohr cited doubts that
Tatum had proved he suffered from a mental disability. But he
also rejected the NCAA's argument that as a private entity, it's
exempt from some provisions of the disability law. The ruling
echoes Justice Department concerns about the screening policies
of the NCAA, which accepted only 29% of the learning-disabled
athletes who applied for eligibility waivers in 1996. "The
Justice Department has held the position for some time that we
are bound by the ADA," says NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro. "It
continues to be our position that we are not."
The Justice Department's civil rights division informed the NCAA
in October that several of its eligibility requirements, such as
excluding remedial classes from the group of high school core
courses required of recruits, violate the ADA. Wrote Daniel
Sutherland, a lawyer in the department's civil rights division,
"We do not seek a lowering of the academic standards for
students with learning disabilities, but that the NCAA modify
the methods it uses to assess whether these students meet
The Justice Department has threatened the NCAA with legal action
if its recommendations about screening disabled students aren't
implemented. Since it's already fighting at least four lawsuits
from learning-disabled athletes around the country, that's a
headache the NCAA doesn't need.
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
Spencer Dunkley, a 6'11" center for the Delaware basketball team
in the early 1990s, often bemoaned the attention his name drew,
once noting, "That shouldn't be all anyone talks about."
Perhaps Dunkley sees things differently these days. Now 28 and
playing for Besancon in the France Pro A basketball league, he
and girlfriend Denise Ashton, 25, are expecting their second
child, a boy. The couple has yet to decide on his first name,
but Dunkley insists his middle name will be Slam.
High School Hoops Oddity
LEAVIN' THEM HANGING
The regular season has ended for Strath Haven High in suburban
Philadelphia with the haunting memory of a basketball left
hanging on the rim more than two months ago. At the end of a
Dec. 5 game against archrival Penncrest High, the Panthers
trailed 47-46 with one second remaining when sophomore guard Bob
Casciato hoisted a three-pointer from the corner. The ball spun
around the inside of the cylinder, bounced out and off the
backboard and then did another tantalizing full circle around
the rim's interior before coming to rest on the back of the rim
as the clock expired.
"Everyone just held his breath," says Penncrest athletic
director Michele Doyle. "And held it, and held it, and held
After a short conference the referees ruled the game over.
"Everyone was hassling me, saying that I needed a freak miss to
make the newspapers," says Casciato, whose shot has become a
staple on blooper shows and sports highlight segments nationwide.
The Panthers finished the regular season with a 13-5 league
record, one game behind Central Athletic League division leader
Lower Merion High, Kobe Bryant's alma mater. North Haven's
runner-up status didn't cost the school a spot in the district
playoffs, but it could leave the Panthers without the benefits
afforded the No. 1 seed, a major blow for any team seeking a
state title in this rugged basketball region. "That was the
difference between second place and a share of the conference
title," says Strath Haven athletic director Ed Quigley. "It's
been two months, but it feels like the ball is still sitting up
--That a proctological Dream Team extracts Ahmad Rashad from the
spot he occupies as Michael Jordan's Boswell.
--That, taking a page from NBC's "plausibly live" coverage of
the Atlanta Games, CBS finds a way to make Nagano's events
--That the PGA finishes Pebble Beach--the rained-out final round
was set for March and then moved to August--before Tiger Woods
is as old as Bob Hope.
Players (Michael Jordan) in Sunday's All-Star Game who have won
an NBA championship.
Breeds that compete each year for Best in Show at the
Westminster Dog Show, which begins Feb. 16.
Breeds that have never won Best in Show in the 90 years
Westminster has awarded the trophy.
Times a Wire Fox Terrier, Westminster's most decorated breed,
has been named Best in Show.
250, 120, 2
Pounds of prime rib, bottles of Dom Perignon and life-sized
chocolate replicas of the Lombardi Trophy consumed at the
Broncos' Super Bowl bash.
Cost, in dollars, picked up by the Denver Chop House and
Brewery, host of the party.
Votes for and against a return to wooden bats in 1998, cast by
the board of the Toluca Lake, Calif., kids' league (players 5 to
16), believed to be the first such league to ban aluminum bats
for safety reasons.
Dollars funneled into the Daytona economy in 1997 by motor
SHOULD THE NBA ADD MARIJUANA TO ITS LIST OF BANNED SUBSTANCES?
The use of any illegal drug, when it becomes public, reflects
poorly on the league as a whole. I'm not saying players should
be drawn and quartered for going one toke over the line. But the
policy that the NBA floated last week (which is being resisted
by the players' union) would keep the league from looking like
one big Grateful Dead concert. Then there's this benefit: The
players might find that being policed by the NBA cuts down on
their contact with the actual police. --Phil Taylor
Wouldn't it be nice to think that all NBA players obey the law?
But just as surely as many of them do 70 in a 55
zone--honest!--it's also true that many of them light up a joint
now and again, 70%, in fact, according to a recent New York
Times survey. Cocaine and performance-enhancing substances are
dangerous enough to merit the league's testing for them, but,
unless players start bringing dime bags to games, going
pot-hunting in the 1990s seems kind of dopey. --J.M.
Jose Canseco signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays
last week for $750,000, a significant pay cut from the $4.7
million he earned for hitting 23 homers and driving in 74 runs
for the Oakland A's last year. Understandably, many teams
weren't interested in a chronically injured, one-dimensional
33-year-old whiffmeister who had played only 95 games a season
and hit .275 since 1993. Still, judging by his power numbers in
that span--and those of some of his long-ball-launching
counterparts--Canseco could turn out to be a Blue Jays bargain.
AVG GAMES AVG AVG
PLAYER PLAYED HR RBI BA '98 SALARY
Canseco 95 23 75 .275 $750,000
Harold Baines, Orioles 124 20 71 .304 $1.2 million
Edgar Martinez, Mariners 114 20 78 .322 $3.1 million
Dean Palmer, Royals 115 24 74 .263 $5.8 million
Manny Ramirez, 110 22 74 .304 $2.75 million
Paul Sorrento, Devil Rays 127 22 76 .267 $2.6 million
Megaselling novelist Tom Clancy, whose pumped-up paeans to
military technology have made him a megamillionaire, last week
offered 200 of those millions to buy the Minnesota Vikings. We
can't help wondering whether other authors may soon be jumping
into the game--and when they do, how the novelizations of their
adventures in ownership might read.
STEPHEN KING, Boston Red Sox
Curse of the Bambino suddenly takes a horrific new twist, as
Green Monster comes to life and terrorizes Beantown before late
autumn cold snap brings it down.
"Chilling, yet believable." --Peter Gammons
DANIELLE STEELE, Los Angeles Lakers
Cleavage-revealing dance-squad captain seduces septuagenarian
owner, gains control and runs team into ground before younger
cleavage-revealing dancer ousts her in spandex-shredding Rodeo
"A heartrending page-turner." --Dr. Jerry Buss
JOHN GRISHAM, Tennessee Oilers
Idealistic young QB/law student learns coaches are in cahoots
with mob; scrambling, he audiblizes way to Super Bowl, where
Oilers lose a heartbreaker; commissioner declares result
"utterly devoid of meaning."
"Inspiring! Reminds me why I went into football."--Peyton Manning
CHARLES FRAZIER, Charlotte Hornets
An oft-injured veteran, tired of the NBA grind, leaves team and
embarks on odyssey to rejoin his fiancee, eluding team officials
along the way before meeting his match in one-on-one shootout
with CBA rookie.
"One slammin', jammin' hoopsapalooza of a novel. Mad literary
hops!" --The Pulitzer Committee
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
Iowa State's new, seven-ton, $1.5 million gondola-shaped
basketball scoreboard that hangs in Hilton Coliseum comes
equipped with four video screens and 24 panels for corporate
signage but shows neither the score nor the running time of the
THEY SAID IT
Northern Burlington (N.J.) High football coach, on the decision
of Mike Haynes, a star fullback and aspiring veterinarian, to
enroll at rural Penn State: "If he wants to see his pet cow,
it'll be right on campus."